By Kathi Bliss
It was very interesting, on Monday, to listen to the first round of budget negotiations amongst the Caldwell County Commissioners Court. Budget talks are a summer tradition here in Caldwell County, and while generally I find the talks a bit boring, I have to admit that this year I’m finding them a bit irksome.
Before I go any further with this, I understand that I might make a few enemies because of it, and that saddens me. However, I hope that people will reserve their tar and feathers, and maybe open up a genuine conversation.
That being said, I have nothing against governmental employees making a fair wage. I think that governmental workers should absolutely earn a fair wage, and I was proud when the Commissioners Court voted two years ago to engage in a five-year plan to make county employee’s wages not only “fair,” but comparable to other areas. That was something that has been necessary for a long time, because the disparity between our County’s pay rates and the surrounding counties’ pay rates has been growing for years.
However, I was a little bit disappointed when I discovered how many county employees have balked at the idea of the five-year plan being put on hold this year, because the budget simply can’t support it without a tax increase.
Instead, Judge Bonn wrote the budget with a $1,000 across the board pay increase for all employees.
I understand where the employees’ concern comes from. I honestly do. But as a taxpayer, I can’t help but think that given the economic climate, governmental employees should be grateful for any pay increase, even if it’s only $1,000 per year.
I know many, many people in the private sector who haven’t received a pay raise in years.
If it seems I’m singling out county employees, I’m not. City of Lockhart employees, LISD employees and Caldwell County Appraisal District employees are all on target to receive taxpayer-funded pay increases this year. And yes, I understand that the lion’s share of those employees are actually local residents who pay property taxes, just like the rest of us.
However, the county employees were the target of my Monday afternoon research, mostly because they have historically been the employees that are the most vocal about how much money they make (or how much money they don’t).
That conversation, for a long time, has focused on the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department and the Caldwell County Jail, were employees have been rumored for years to be accepting Federal and State assistance to feed their families. That’s a travesty, and I’m glad the Commissioners took steps to fix it. The people that protect and serve us should be able to feed their children.
Still, I wonder if maybe a little bit of an attitude adjustment isn’t in order. The numbers proposed in this year’s budget suggest that jailers, on average, will make $30,178 in the coming budget year, after their $1,000 raise. Yes, I realize that’s not much… but the Federal Poverty Guidelines put a household of six at the poverty level with an income of $31,590. According to the 2010 Caldwell County Census, the average county household is 3.02 people, and the median household income is $43,393.
When I look at the numbers in those terms, I don’t feel quite as sorry for the jailers as I once did – especially when they are complaining that their pay raise should be more.
Sorry, fellas. I can think of a whole lot of people that would take a $1,000 pay raise and be grateful, especially the folks who work for small businesses who are struggling just to keep the doors open.
I don’t mean for our leadership to punish their employees for their service. I don’t want to see things revert to where they were, where our governmental employees are living below the poverty line, and can’t keep food on the table.
But I sure do wish that our elected leadership would look at reality, as well, and realize that tax dollars are not an endless well that enables them to keep paying the employees more and more – especially when the private sector employees in the area are not enjoying the same pay increases.
I applaud Judge Bonn for trying to split the difference; I applaud him for realizing that his job is to balance the needs of the employees with the needs of the taxpayers – and for noticing that plenty of non-government employees in Caldwell County are struggling just as much as government employees are…. If not more.